Nowadays the car scene is much different from even just 15 years ago, there is’s many legitimate reasons for this, which I will discuss later in this post. But! At one point, if you were a fan of Japanese cars you would probably me loving what exciting new cars were coming out and amazed at how many separate high performance models you could choose from.
What happened since then to change all this? In this post I’ll be talking about some reasons why things changed but also showing how great the cars of the 90s era were and some of my favorites.
A lot of this post is my own personal opinions but I have researched a good amount in to this and feel free to leave any comments below of your own opinions, I would love to hear them.
Fuel Prices and the Decline of the Sports Car
This did not just affect Japanese cars obviously, but as more expensive vehicles from Germany and Italy seemed to carry on, it showed the market that a lot of Japanese cars were aiming for was hit hard. In the late 90s the sports car market was shrinking, the extra fuel and other associated costs meant they just didn’t sell as many as they used to. Manufacturers with a more premium feeling niche seemed to be less affected. If the customers buying them obviously have more money to spend then the extra cost in fuel doesn’t really mean as much to them and the strange advantage of “sports cars” that aren’t the stereotypical design had another advantage, as diesel engine and turbo technology advanced, the idea of diesel sports cars became normal and could escape high fuel bills for this reason, as long as they had the image of a sports car, the market didn’t care too much, they could even be based on normal economy car platforms and the buyers would still buy them up (Audi tt) The “purer” sports cars however cost more to develop in comparison without sharing an existing platform and since the driving experience mattered more to sports cars, a diesel option just wouldn’t work as well, imagine a diesel Mazda RX7, Honda NSX or Toyota MR2.
What survived was the mx5, mk3 mr2, rx8, 350z and although I know it’s Korean but the Hyundai Coupe. Overall the market had to adapt to a less serious idea of sports car.
Modern Emission Limits
The modern EU limit in 2020 is now 95g of CO2 per kilometer (average), which is amazingly low compared to what the majority of cars were putting out even 10 years ago. This ever stricter limit does end up pushing manufacturers to all use whichever design engine is most suited to meeting these limits, which as the trends go seems to be turbo-charged cars as they have the potential if driven carefully to meet this and obtain good fuel efficiency. Back in 2012 the limit of 130grams of CO2 per kilometer was being phased in, but how many modern hot hatches for example use turbo 2.0 4 cylinders compared to the late 90s when you could see massive vr6 engined Golfs to the same powered 1.6 vtec Civics or 2.0 turbo Nissan Pulsars, the range of engines with overall similar performance was massive compared to modern cars, you could even buy a v6 Renault Clio! Or a 2.0 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution had similar performance to 8.0 Dodge Viper!
I’m not saying any design was better or worse than the other as they each have advantages and disadvantages in many ways. As well I am not saying that I don’t care about emissions, I think the high powers need to know how serious keeping the planet sustainable and healthy is the most important thing but some times real world figures aren’t reflected 100% by the new rules, look at how diesels were the “new bad thing” for a couple years until we changed are mind again and regarding fuel consumption, my 20 year old Daihatsu Cuore was a cheap car back when it was new and still is, without all this new technology on the engine and even a second o2 sensor, I still get over 60mpg on a long drive, how many modern petrols can achieve that? The real world progress of fuel consumption hasn’t approved massively and at one point in America even got worse.
You could buy an affordable car like a mk2 Toyota mr2 turbo that could out accelerate a Ferrari to 60mph. The performance on a lot of Japanese cars back then was incredible, considering the price and actual output of the cars, even more incredible. The Japanese definitely had an advantage, you could buy an estate car like a Subaru Impreza that could keep up with pretty much any super car. Technology and innovation that went in to the cars coming from Japan was years ahead of most of the other countries, Take a look at all the records set by cars like the NSX and mk4 Supra, then look at the price compared to more exotic super cars.
Imagine in 2020 if Subarus Legacy could keep up with BMW M3s never mind an Impreza. There’s so many other examples of cars that you couldn’t see being made like that today, a high performance rotary engined rx7 or a Mitsubishi that had the power, luxury and technology as the 3000GT.
The Problem of Brand Image
In general most people think of German cars as premium vehicles and (other than the last half decade) Korean or other Asian cars and cheap economy car, even if the cheaper cars tend to use less fuel and do better in reliability tests, but as the plastics aren’t as nice then who cares about the important things anyway. Japanese manufacturers originally were looked at in the same way the KIA/Hyundai brand was, so in the UK anyway all fairly new and with something to prove and usually cheaper than a similar spec rival.
Japanese car overall tend to be very functional cars for doing the fundamental roles of what a car should be, affordable is one of them fundamentals so being exclusive and upmarket isn’t a connotation of most Japanese car manufactures.
As sports cars and super cars became faster and faster, even base sports cars demanded a fairly high price and as the performance was so attainable, many luxury extras came fairly standard and ended up being coupe looking saloons in the end like the Audi A5 or BMW 4 series, and a lot cheaper to develop since they share so many parts from existing models. This idea meant that the like of Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi couldn’t really compete as they would never have the same appeal to buyers as most of them to be honest just want a fast, sporty looking luxury saloon. This was an extra challenge as well as the other negative issues of making sports cars in modern times to the Japanese so the market declined more than the rivals like Mercedes-Benz.
The idea that each new model must be bigger, faster and have more accessories than the last model some times gets rid of the idea behind the original concept, on the other side of that, it does make each new model seem an improvement though which sells cars. Manufacturers like Daihatsu though don’t follow that closely though as for example each new small car the release is as small as the last, but for reasons like this they don’t sell well in places outside of Asia.
Eventually as the decedents of older models become so far from what the original concept was, a gap in the market usually appears. Recently this has happened to the sports car market, the only true sports cars left was the Porsche Cayman and Boxter, the Mazda mx5 and the Toyota GT86 (Subaru/Scion). Other than the Boxter and the mx5, they are relatively new models though, so hoping this continues with more sports cars making a comeback too!
The main thing restricting manufacturers from making sports cars is the emissions limits, the fines they would face just wouldn’t make most cars profitable and in the end it’s all about money. With advancements in turbos, engine management, exhaust emission control and electric motors, 200hp is pretty easy to make, so maybe the smaller sports cars will end up sneaking below the emission restrictions.
There is so many fans of the 90s Japanese sports car era and good examples of them cars now can sell for way over there is original value, proving how much car enthusiasts care about them, it would be good to see manufacturers release models to get the enthusiasts interested again.
Once again please leave a comment if you have anything to ad or ask me! Thanks